Gardening can be good for you. But when you’re not up for all the bending, lifting and digging, a terrarium can make getting your green thumb dirty much less painful. And you can enjoy this miniature garden year-round, without the seasonal chores.
Follow these 6 simple steps to get started.
1. Choose open or closed. Terrariums can be either open or closed. Your choice will dictate the type of plants that will go in it as some tropical varieties fair best in enclosed, more humid conditions.
2. Pick your container. Any clear container – from an official glass terrarium to a large plastic jar that pretzels come in – can be used, says University of Illinois horticulture educator Jennifer Schultz Nelson, PhD. Although plastic is lighter and easier to work with, glass will last longer and isn’t prone to cracks and discoloration over time as plastic is. Chose a container with a large opening to minimize maneuvering small tools.
3. Prepare for planting. Layer the bottom of your terrarium with the following: three inches of gravel for drainage; one-half inch of charcoal to reduce odors; a piece of mesh material such as window screening or a thin layer of moss to retain water; and potting soil. (Don’t use dirt from your yard; it may have contaminants or pests.) Together, these three layers should comprise about one-fourth of your terrarium, says Nelson.
Pam Shank, founder and owner of Harrisonburg, Va.-based Landscapes in Miniature, recommends Add variety to your terrarium by mounding the soil higher in the middle, says miniature gardening expert Pam Shank, founder and owner of Landscapes in Miniature in Harrisonburg, Va. And forget the fertilizer, she advises – it will only lead to the need for more pruning.
4. Protect your hands. If you find miniature gardening tools are hard to handle, try building up handles with tape or a foam curler. Gardening gloves or pressure gloves like IMAK’s Arthritis Gloves, which received the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation. Or, let your hands be your tools, says Nelson. Working the dirt with your fingers can be therapeutic.
5. Plant. For an enclosed terrarium, choose humidity-loving plants – such as ferns and moss – and miniature varieties of plants like English ivy and baby tears. . For an open terrarium, Nelson recommends small ficus, begonias, and miniature African violets. Allow an inch around all sides for growth and to reduce the risk of overcrowding and water each plant with a tablespoon or two of water to start.
6. Personalize. Add your own touch with something that has personal meaning -- perhaps a miniature birdbath, frog figurine or bench. Just be sure it’s waterproof, says Shank.